Another taster.

by Callum B. Downes

Here is a second excerpt from my novel in progress.

Thank you so much for the continued support everyone. Your kind words and encouragement are making this dream of mine a reality!

Never before had Chester and Roge travelled in silence. Roge’s grip on the steering wheel was tight and his hands clammy. He was visibly distressed by the absence of his master’s endless chatter, and for the first time since his days as a soldier, he froze up. Chester just stared blankly. His back like a plank and his face like a statue. He fixed his eyes on the road directly ahead and tears welled up somewhere deep inside him, but not in his eyes.

The road was as straight as an arrow and the convoy rattled on through the lifeless plains on either side. It would be a picture of symmetry, if it weren’t for the coal seam gas towers rising up from the bowels of the earth. Relics from a forgotten tale of boom and bust, etched into landscape and memory. They stood sadly against the elements, rusted out and broken, their failing strength soon to be plundered and consumed by the grumbling stomach of the dirt beneath it.

Many hours passed before the convoy arrived at their destination. A lone shack, just off the straight road, the only place inhabited for 100 kilometres either direction. A few head of cattle grazed on a miserly bale of hay, their bony structures barely able to hold them upright in the breeze. The shack itself was supported by iron scaffolding where the original timber had given way on one side. Most of the windows were boarded over and half the roof was adorned with what seemed to Chester as permanent tarpaulin. In fact, nothing had changed since he’d last visited Greg Parker’s farm, back when he was making a name for himself as a slave trader and undercutting the market. Countless seasons had passed, yet they only ever offered Greg the same toxic waters and relentless dust. The same pain.

Greg Parker remained static in his chair upon the porch. His determination not to acknowledge his emotions had served him well over the years and he wasn’t about to neglect this principle now. Not a flinch, nor a stir, he was transfixed on Chester, who dragged his feet up the creaky stairs and refused to lift his head to meet the condemnation of a long lost customer.

Silence hung in the air for a while and the old farmer was surprised to be the one who broke it.

“Reckon I don’t have long, boss.” It was a long time before he attempted to speak again, but he just spluttered a cough into his dusty jacket instead. Strings of blood remained on his lips as he lifted his head. He regained some composure and let out a hefty sigh before labouring into a rough mumble once more. “Not too sure ‘bout this weather no more, boss. Think the rains are comin’. A bloody drenching no doubt. Not sure if the girls could survive another mud bath.” He raised a bent and calloused finger toward the livestock. Chester shuffled uncomfortably as the futility of his visit began sinking in.

“I’m glad I never bowed to them yellow skinned monkeys or the suits with their drills. If only there were a few more like me, son. Faith in the soil, heart of the land.” He let out a prolonged groan from somewhere impossibly deep inside him.

“You know, I’ve learnt something over the years.” He moved for the first time since Chester’s arrival to lean forward and catch the trader’s gaze. “Chasing dollar signs is a fruitless endeavour, if in the process you destroy the branches that bear it or the basket that receives it.” He returned to his rigid position and was puzzled further by the unconscionable passiveness of Chester, a man never associated with inaction.

“All I need’s a few lads and lasses to share my last few days with. That’s all anyone needs in the end. I’m happy to part with everything left here. I’ll sweep out the nest egg too, if it pleases you”.

Chester met with the old man’s eyes for the first time and was shocked by the frailness of his customer’s face. His glassy eyes were set deep into their sockets, dried blood cracked open upon his chin and the little hair left on his scalp was sprawling manically down the left side of his skull. But Chester simply nodded.

He tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for the old man to retrieve his life savings from a safe beneath his bed. Leaning against an iron pylon, he witnessed the setting of the sun without feeling. A flock of sparrows keeled over the horizon, following the light and gliding into silhouetted freedom. Roge shoved the slaves violently onto the porch and began dismantling their chains.

The little girl trembled at the thought of her future and strangled the wooden doll with one red shoe, hanging by her side. She mourned the loss of a second mother, who remained in a bloody heap within the truck. She feared the burly Congolese man, who now stood unrestrained by muzzle and chain. She longed for the days of sun sitting that she only knew in her dreams.

Those dreams were all she had, and so she clung to their waning promise and hoped to join the flock of sparrows in their pursuit of fleeting light.

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